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GORDON HOPING TOP SPOT PUTS HIM BACK ON TOP

With New Hampshire International Speedway behaving badly, the place to be is at the front of the field, right where Jeff Gordon will start today in the $2.3 million CMT 300 (1 p.m., TNN; Radio 1330, 1340).

A rash of accidents that have plagued the Winston Cup cars in practice and qualifying the last two days have placed a premium on the top starting positions. The reason for most of the mishaps is a slick surface in the turns on the 1.058-mile oval.

Because he has no one to pass, Gordon will have the first shot at finding the best racing line while the rest of the field will have to take its chances.

"It's not so bad in the groove," he said. "If you get out of the groove, it's pure ice. A lot of guys can attest to that."

A good one to ask might be Sterling Marlin, who goes from 40th position on the grid after two meetings with the wall in as many days.

"You can't race hard, because you're going to wreck," Marlin said. "If they don't fix it, they'll wreck 20 cars on the restarts."

The problem Marlin was addressing is one created by a dressing of the 12-degree banks with a reconditioner comprised of liquid asphalt and sand. It was put down in hopes of creating a wider groove on a track used almost constantly from April to October.

The feeling is that the longer the race goes Sunday the better the track will be.

"We really liked the way the track conditions were when we left here," Gordon said, alluding to July 12, when the Jiffy Lube 300 was completed. "A lot of that sealer had worn off, the groove moved way out."

What Jeff Burton has to do is safely reach the front. That's where he ran most of the time when he dominated the race last month. He did that from the fifth position on the grid, but as one of the crash victims finds himself starting 25th.

He is undeterred, however.

"These things have a way of working themselves out," he said. "It will probably be OK."

If it is, he and Gordon could stage a stirring duel. Both are trying to become the first three-time winner in the six-year history of Winston Cup racing in New England.

Two of Burton's four career victories -- by 7.439 seconds last month and by 5.372 a year earlier -- have been at NHIS. Although neither came after he was forced into a backup car, he isn't worried about the equipment.

"It's a great car," he said. "It's the one we won Martinsville with."

That victory, last year in the Hanes 500, also came on a pure oval -- albeit only half the length of NHIS -- with 12 degrees of banking.

Gordon wants to build on his 67-point lead over Burton's teammate, Mark Martin, as he seeks his third series title in the last four years. He also wants to prove he's better than he looked in running third to both last month at NHIS.

Brack wins third straight

HAMPTON, Ga. -- It took him a while to get rolling but Kenny Brack was there at the end of the inaugural Atlanta 500 Classic, becoming the first Pep Boys Indy Racing League driver to win three straight races.

Brack, a 30-year-old from Sweden, failed to win in his first 13 IRL races and hasn't lost since, giving car-owner A.J. Foyt victories at Dover, Pikes Peak and now Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The win, combined with Scott Sharp's failure to finish because of a gearbox problem midway through the race, moved Brack into the season points lead with only two of 11 races remaining.

"Amazing," Brack said. "On the last yellow, we were not sure if we should go for the lead or stay in third for the points. I guess I'm not that kind of driver."

Brack led just 17 of the 208 laps on the 1.54-mile oval, but took the lead for good on lap 195 when he drove his Dallara-Aurora race car past Jeff Ward's G Force-Aurora in the first turn and pulled away.

Davey Hamilton finished second; Eddie Cheever held off Scott Goodyear for third, followed by Tony Stewart, the fading Ward, who had handling problems at the end, and Mark Dismore, the last driver on the lead lap.

Bolles breaks neck in New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. -- NASCAR Busch North Series driver Tom Bolles broke his neck in a racing accident Saturday at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Greg Kraft, nursing supervisor at Concord Hospital, said Bolles fractured the second cervical bone in his spine, but had no apparent paralysis. Kraft said the driver was in stable condition, conscious and breathing without assistance.

Bolles was being treated by emergency room physician Andrew Jaffee in the intensive care unit, and was undergoing further testing Saturday night. Kraft said no immediate surgery was anticipated.

The 37-year-old driver from Ellington, Conn., was injured when his car crashed into the first turn wall.

Hakkinen leads McLaren sweep

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium -- World standings leader Mika Hakkinen clinched the pole position for today's Belgian Grand Prix as title challenger Michael Schumacher slumped to fourth place on the grid.

Hakkinen and teammate David Coulthard were involved in a seesaw battle through qualifying and made sure Schumacher will be facing a silver McLaren-Mercedes screen on today's starting grid.

Former world champion Damon Hill led his Jordan-Mugen Honda to third place on the grid, just ahead of the German.

Hakkinen took his ninth pole in 13 races by lapping the 4.329-mile Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 1 minute 48.682 seconds.

Crassi doubles up at Holland

Nick Crassi of Gowanda won for a second week in a row as he took the 25-lap Pro Truck feature on a rain-delayed card Saturday at Holland Speedway.

Neil Hopkins of West Falls won the 25-lap Pro Modified event, Buffalo's Jeff Price took the Chargers, and Rich Perkins of East Concord won the Figure-8. The Late-Model feature was postponed until Sept. 12.

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